National Geographic : 1904 Oct
EARLY GEOGRAPHERS OF done by our forbears in the way of col lecting geographical data in order that we may plan for its future development, for it is history that must form a basis for all advancement. In these strenuous days, when by the means of modern appliances so much is accomplished in a short time, we are apt to forget to what extent we are in debted to the pioneers in new fields of discovery, who by their labors have given to mankind such indescribable benefits, including untold millions of money. Such a matter-of-course has it become that geographical expeditions are now fitted out, even for the antipodes, with only a brief notice in our daily papers, while any story, however unimportant, provided its effect is to startle the mind, is given space ad libitum, and in many cases ad nauseam. It is therefore through societies, such as we greet today in the city which is celebrating one of the principal events in geograpical history, to which must be delegated the duty of stimulating our people to further efforts at research in the special field of science which we have met to consider, assuring them that as long as '' knowledge is power " no region that is unknown can be too unimportant for investigation. This must be my excuse for taking up your time for a brief moment in a resume of a portion of the work done in this cause by the service to which I have the honor to belong, the Navy of the United States. To cover the whole field of geographic exploration in a lec ture of a few brief minutes is not within the power of any man, and hence I have restricted myself to the early achieve ments of this small corps of men with whose accomplishment I am best ac quainted, and even as thus circum scribed must confine myself to a bare outline of the reports made, leaving to better hands much to be mentioned. I think I may say that the United States Navy is one of the oldest, if not THE UNITED STATES 393 the oldest, of all the National Geographic Societies of this country, for scarcely had we become a nation before its offi cers began a study of our coast, near which in the early days of the Republic the most of its population resided, and of which very little was known. The summation of the information then ex tant was given in a few incomplete charts handed down from the early sur veys, or rather reconnoissances, of our English ancestors that were so unrelia ble as to be practically useless. As our own coast became more familiar to the people, naval officers began to glean in other fields, and no part of the earth's surface was too distant to claim their attention. This resulted in establishing a depart ment within our naval administration which was known at first as the U. S. Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Department, and it has given to the world a vast amount of data gained from surveys or investigations in almost every country in the universe. And we must remember that to the U. S. Navy, as Humboldt has placed on record, the world is indebted for founding a new de partment of science, that of the Physical Geography of the Sea. But few names stand higher on the roll of honor and but few men have lived whose work has been of more lasting benefit to mankind than that of the dis tinguished scientist, Commander Mat thew F. Maury, late U. S. Navy, who was the originator and most valuable contributor to this branch of science. SLACUM'S VOYAGE In November, 1835, President Van Buren directed William A. Slacum, an officer of the U. S. Navy, to proceed to the western coast of the United States and endeavor " to obtain there all such information, political, physical, statis tical, and geographical, as might prove useful or interesting to the govern ment."